Back in the late '70s after the birth of the infamous Korg MS-20, an inseparable sidekick would come to the aid of the beloved semi-modular synthesizer, assisting in any and all sequencing duties: The mighty SQ-10 Modular Sequencer! A 12-step, 3 channel CV sequencer that would allow for the patching between the MS-20, and the SQ-10, taking things much further than the keyboard could alone. While this form of sequencing might seem antiquated-and its unclear why for the most part it was a method left out of most popular synthesizers since-modular sequencing offers many benefits that result in much more complex sequences not really possible with a regular Step Sequencer.
Enter the Korg SQ-1, a revised version of the legendary SQ-10, with many new features that make it much more versatile and easily integrated. With only 2 rows of eight steps this time, the SQ-1 still works like a patcheable CV modular sequencer, but also acts as a step sequencer. Borrowing its step button style from the infamous Volca series, Korg has adapted a more contemporary approach that will allow for ever more creativity and complexity. Using the Hz/V standard used in the MS-20, the sequencer gives greater pitch stability over the more commonly used V/Oct standard, though it also implements it to allow for connectivity to other synthesizers. CV voltage levels, as well as Gate polarity are adjustable, so issues with other machines should be few and far between if any at all.
As mentioned, the new revision only offers two channels (rows), here presented as A and B. The great thing is, in different modes you could for example tie both channels together consecutively, so it would act as a 16 step sequencer, or have the steps play in random. You can also patch 2 parameters from the MS-20 or another synth, and affect the intensity of the parameter per step and run both channels in parallel. Its unclear why Korg decided against the 3rd channel which would have been nice to say, control pitch on A, gate length or envelope in B, and Filter or LFO in C like on the original or even the Korg MS2000, but given the new features, and just the fact it is a very useful Step Sequencer, i think we can probably forgive them for that. Seems going compact was a key in the revision, being that the original was about as big as the MS-20 itself, so perhaps portability, and even integration with the Volca series was a big part of this decision.
Step button features also include "Active Step", which allows you to skip through steps in the middle of a sequence, as well as "Step Jump" which lets you instantly play the step you choose by tapping the button, producing short loops and grooves. There is also the way cool "Slide" feature which will instantly turn your MS-20 or any other synth into a true Acid machine.
Other features on the Korg SQ-1 include selectable Step Resolution in 1/8, 1/4, or 1/16 notes. You can also specify the way in which the step knobs control the pitch, which can be done by ear, or by selecting the closest note in Minor, Major, or Chromatic scale. The device also includes MIDI out (1/8" jack, which is unfortunate, but done to save space perhaps), as well as USB for power and MIDI In connectivity (Its only source of MIDI input for clocking purposes ). Additional jacks also include a littleBits out for the company's synth kit, as well as Sync I/O for Volca devices, not to mention the most important ones which include 2 sets of CV Gate I/O for connectivity to your analog gear.
Packed in a sturdy metal box, with red LED's as in the Volca series, and matching the lights on the MS-20, the device can also operate on 2 AA batteries for portability, and will greatly complement your studio. Get this now, and get patchin', as modular systems continue to grow in popularity, and for great reason! The approach taken in carefully listening to the sound, rather than interfacing with digital menus and the like, introduces us to a more organic feel in sequencing that you might find more ideal. If anything, having this type of system in your studio will open doors to more complexity, helping your sound evolve and your interest rise as you are challenged by the different options available for you.
Written by: Santino Fernandez